AEW Full Gear 2023: 3 Things We Hated And Three Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.'s absolutely undeniable review of AEW Full Gear 2023, aka the one where MJF steals the ambulance! Full Gear turned out to be an interesting show, with several unexpectedly successful title defenses and the seemingly total absence of at least one major storyline, but "interesting" doesn't always mean "good." And of course, we have a few total absences of major events here in this review space, where we only talk about the specific things that moved us, for better or worse. If you want details on the whole shebang, check out our live coverage/results page.

So which matches or segments on this year's Full Gear show particularly stand out to the WINC writing and editorial staff? Did we appreciate the complex storytelling in the main event, or shudder at its brazen WCW-ness? Did we enjoy the official crowning of Julia Hart, or is it too soon? And most importantly, did we manage to get through the Texas Death Match without losing our lunch? Here are three things we hated and three things we loved about AEW Full Gear 2023.

Loved: The Edge and Christian slow burn (Miles Schneiderman, WINC senior lead news editor)

I haven't been a huge fan of the feud between Adam Copeland and Christian Cage thus far, but I have to give credit where credit is due. After weeks of promos centered around Copeland refusing to fight his old friend, Christian (with some help from Sting) finally goaded Copeland into fighting him, and the show-opening six-man tag team match featuring both men, they basically never touched each other. That's brilliant. 10/10.

If that reads like I'm being sarcastic, I promise you I'm not. Not only does the move reinforce Christian's status as a cowardly heel hiding behind his bravado (and his henchmen), it's a very natural way of extending the Copeland vs. Christian feud past the Darby Allin and Sting of it all. Those two had to be in this match, purely by virtue of how WrestleDream went down and how Copeland was brought into AEW, but now that Full Gear is over, Allin and Sting can move on to the next leg of Sting's retirement tour, and Copeland and Christian can just keep feuding, and it's fine because they still haven't really wrestled each other yet and we all want them do. Boom. That's some legitimately genius booking — are we sure Danielson wasn't backstage?

Hated: AEW referees are still disturbingly blind and/or stupid (Schneiderman)

The only thing about the opener I actively didn't like was literally everything that involved Ric "Hello, I'm A Sex Pest, There Are Actual Documentaries About It" Flair, but particularly egregious was the moment when Flair confronted Christian outside the ring. The referee came over to head off any trouble, at which point Christian shoved Flair lightly and Flair responded with a series of chops. Which is, you know, illegal. And the referee is RIGHT THERE, LOOKING AT THEM. And yet, no disqualification, match continues.

The announcers tried to cover with something about "the referee's discretion," but we've all been taught a certain way to watch wrestling over the years. There's a certain language inherently implied here, and that language says you get DQ'd if your weird pervy uncle gets physical with your opponent. If you want to do things different, you have to tell your audience you're doing it differently, which includes clearly detailing the specific ways in which it's different and doing so ahead of time. If you can't do that, make the match no disqualification, or do the work to build a ref distraction spot into it, or best of all, don't sign RIc Flair to a multi-year contract because he has an energy drink.

But it wasn't just Flair. The mishap in Toni Storm's win over Hikaru Shida was a legitimate mistake that occurred when Storm's metal tray (or whatever) didn't cooperate with her tights, but that didn't make Aubrey Edwards look any less dumb for pretending not to notice. I'm not totally sure what, if anything, can be done on the fly in a situation like that, but it's just weird that this referee thing has been such a consistent issue for AEW over the years. And unfortunately, it really stood out at Full Gear.

Loved: The House finally wins (Colby Applegate, WINC news writer)

When asked what match I was looking forward to the most from Full Gear, the TBS title match was one of the first that popped in my mind. While I would've liked to have seen the champion be a little more involved in the angle going in, I loved seeing the weekly developments between Julia Hart and Skye Blue. And I really loved Julia Hart winning her first title here.

My gut told me that Hart receiving another title shot after coming up short at WrestleDream last month meant that the chances were pretty good she'd bring home gold to the House of Black. Better yet was the storytelling the three competitors displayed in their bout, as Hart and Blue initially avoided each other in favor of picking apart the champion. Once that alliance ended, however, all three really kicked it into high gear. Despite my prediction about Hart, I was particularly impressed with Blue, and then I thought for sure Statlander was retaining after she hit Saturday Night Fever, but nope. Hart kept us guessing with a wicked clothesline on the champ and a pinfall on Blue in order to become the new and third-ever TBS Champion.

Statlander made for a great fighting champion over the last six months, but it was best for AEW to strike while the iron was hot in regards to Hart. She is over, she has improved, and the win adds some much-needed credibility back to The House of Black. Congrats to everyone involved.

Hated: Will Ospreay is here to sell Wembley tickets (Schneiderman)

Is Will Ospreay formally signing with AEW a big deal? Yes. Was the surprise free agent signing a little underwhelming because Ospreay has already had several matches on AEW TV? Also yes. Was he brought here five months before he's actually able to enter the company (aka after he completes his New Japan dates) purely as an excuse for Tony Khan to start hawking tickets for All In 2024? Oh, you'd better believe it.

Look, I largely occupy space in the "Will Ospreay is perfectly fine" camp, which I get is distinct from the "Will Ospreay is the immortal god-king of wrestling" camp, but I don't run around talking about how much. I hate him or anything He's fine. I just thought Khan's whole X announcement where he was like "I have signed an amazing wrestler, will reveal at Full Gear" sort of implied someone who hadn't been on AEW programming yet — in contrast, despite reports of WWE interest, Ospreay had basically declared his intention to sign with AEW on AEW TV a few months ago, so it's not like this actually moved the surprise needle at all. And then Ospreay starts talking about how it's going to be five months before he comes in, and then you realize All In tickets go on sale in about two weeks, and you start to understand why Ospreay specifically mentioned returning to Wembley as a member of the AEW roster. If you watched the post-show press conference, you know how much time Khan spent talking about Wembley Stadium, and you get the sense that he's really trying to juice that first round of All In orders. And that just makes the whole thing a little gross.

So yeah, underwhelming signing that we have to wait almost half a year to see regularly, but who was trotted out at Full Gear to try and get people to spend money on wrestling in London. I can't imagine why nobody takes Khan's dumb announcements seriously anymore.

Loved: Swerve Strickland vs. Adam Page (Schneiderman)

I honestly don't have much to say about this other than what others have already said: It was fantastic. I'm not even a guy who likes death match wrestling and it was fantastic. I had problems with the match — serious structural problems that lie at the heart of Tony Khan's failings as a wrestling booker — but at the end of the day, who cares? The experience as a whole was incredible, and greater than the sum of its parts.

I think my favorite visual from Strickland vs. Page was a blood-covered Strickland, against whom Page had been making liberal use of the staple gun, grabbing the staple gun and shooting himself with it to prove that he was beyond pain — beyond human. Swerve Strickland is a monster, a demon in human form, and for just a moment, as he reveled in the feeling of the staples piercing his chest, you could see it in its entirety, see right beneath his skin to the horrifying, blood-crazed maniac within. And while I wish very much that this match had been at least five minutes shorter (fits the narrative better) the most important thing is that Strickland won. He's now 2-0 against Page (none of this "50/50 booking" s***) and has just finished putting on, and winning, what some are already calling the best death match of all time. He's finally being treated like the star he is, and it's incredible to see.

Now go win the world title, Swerve.

Hated: Jay White's main-event push is dead and buried (Liam O'Loughlin, WINC news writer)

When widely-respected free agent Jay White arrived in AEW over six months ago, the potential for the company to promote another fresh young face into the main-event scene was evident. The 31-year-old had dominated NJPW for a number of years, capturing a litany of championships before finally signing with a US-based promotion and set to take his career to the next level. After working his way through the AEW roster without losing in singles competition, White's ascension to the top of the card would peak at Saturday's Full Gear pay-per-view, headlining the show against AEW World Champion MJF in a highly-anticipated bout.

Unfortunately, what should have been a straight-forward match between two classy and methodical in-ring technicians ended up being an unnecessarily melodramatic clash centred around a hokey injury angle. Following his pre-show tag team encounter against The Gunns, MJF would have his knee battered over and over with a steel chair by the heels, leading to him being carted away in an ambulance. His close friend, Adam Cole, offered to step into the match and face White, despite being on crutches and in a moon boot due to his real-life ankle injury suffered in September — a clear logistical hole in a strange shift in the world title program.

Cole would make his way down to the ring but just before the referee rang the bell, MJF would predictably return to the arena driving the ambulance, taking his rightful spot against White. The pair worked hard in a lengthy encounter, but the kayfabe injury angle clearly hampered what could have been a stellar performance. To make matters worse for the challenger, MJF would emerge victorious despite essentially competing on one leg and making White come across as a totally weak challenger, dashing any hopes of a legitimate future main-event push within AEW.

While the build to the match was mixed, it definitely didn't need the added element of MJF hamming up a knee injury and White falling short despite a bunch of shenanigans, ref bumps and a wounded opponent. It was unlikely that the Kiwi star was ever going to capture the championship on this occasion, but his flirtation with the top of the card under Tony Khan's booking now feels dead and buried.

On top of the match itself, the lack of progress in the devil storyline at Full Gear was another blight on the current creative direction, especially considering the flat nature of the show-ending match and the closing shots of MJF celebrating with Cole and White left in the ring, cutting a dejected figure after his one chance of glory went up in flame.